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3.2.4 • Public • Published

Observable Webworker

Simple API for using web workers with RxJS observables

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  • Simple fromWorker function from main thread side
  • Fully RxJS interfaces allowing both main thread and worker thread streaming
  • Error handling across the thread boundaries is propagated
    • Under the hood materialize and dematerialize is used as a robust transport of streaming errors
  • Automatic handling of worker termination on main thread unsubscription of observable
  • Framework agnostic - while the demo uses Angular, the only dependencies are rxjs so React or Vue or plain old js is completely compatible
  • Fully compatible with Webpack worker-plugin
  • Class interface based worker creation (should be familiar API for Angular developers)
  • Unopinionated on stream switching behavior, feel free to use mergeMap, switchMap or exhaustMap in your worker if the input stream outputs multiple items that generate their own stream of results
  • Built in interfaces for handling Transferable parts of message payloads so large binaries can transferred efficiently without copying - See Transferable section for usage
  • Automatic destruction of worker on unsubscription of output stream, this allows for smart cancelling of computation using switchMap operator, or parallelisation of computation with mergeMap
  • Worker Pool strategy - maximise the throughput of units of work by utilising all cores on the host machine







Install the npm package: observable-webworker

# with npm 
npm install observable-webworker
# or with yarn 
yarn add observable-webworker



Main Thread

// src/readme/hello.ts
import { fromWorker } from 'observable-webworker';
import { of } from 'rxjs';
const input$ = of('Hello from main thread');
fromWorker<string, string>(() => new Worker('./hello.worker', { type: 'module' }), input$).subscribe(message => {
  console.log(message); // Outputs 'Hello from webworker'

Worker Thread

// src/readme/hello.worker.ts
import { DoWork, ObservableWorker } from 'observable-webworker';
import { Observable } from 'rxjs';
import { map } from 'rxjs/operators';
export class HelloWorker implements DoWork<string, string> {
  public work(input$: Observable<string>): Observable<string> {
    return input$.pipe(
      map(message => {
        console.log(message); // outputs 'Hello from main thread'
        return `Hello from webworker`;
Important Note

You must export your worker class (export class ...) from the file if you're using a minifier. If you don't, your class will be removed from the bundle, causing your worker to do nothing!

You'll probably need to export the class anyway as you are unit testing it right?!

Don't like decorators? Don't use 'em!

If decorators is not something you use regularly and prefer direct functions, simply use the runWorker function instead.

// src/readme/hello-no-decorator.worker.ts#L5-L16
class HelloWorker implements DoWork<string, string> {
  public work(input$: Observable<string>): Observable<string> {
    return input$.pipe(
      map(message => {
        console.log(message); // outputs 'Hello from main thread'
        return `Hello from webworker`;


If either your input or output (or both!) streams are passing large messages to or from the worker, it is highly recommended to use message types that implement the Transferable interface (ArrayBuffer, MessagePort, ImageBitmap).

Bear in mind that when transferring a message to a webworker that the main thread relinquishes ownership of the data.

Recommended reading:

To use Transferables with observable-worker, a slightly more complex interface is provided for both sides of the main/worker thread.

If the main thread is transferring Transferables to the worker, simply add a callback to the fromWorker function call to select which elements of the input stream are transferable.

// src/readme/transferable.main.ts#L7-L11
return fromWorker<ArrayBuffer, string>(
  () => new Worker('./transferable.worker', { type: 'module' }),
  input => [input],

If the worker is transferring Transferables to the main thread simply implement DoTransferableWork, which will require you to add an additional method selectTransferables?(output: O): Transferable[]; which you implement to select which elements of the output object are Transferable.

Both strategies are compatible with each other, so if for example you're computing the hash of a large ArrayBuffer in a worker, you would only need to use add the transferable selector callback in the main thread in order to mark the ArrayBuffer as being transferable in the input. The library will handle the rest, and you can just use DoWork in the worker thread, as the return type string is not Transferable.

Worker Pool Strategy

If you have a large amount of work that needs to be done, you can use the fromWorkerPool function to automatically manage a pool of workers to allow true concurrency of work, distributed evenly across all available cores.

The worker pool strategy has the following features

  • Work can be provided as either Observable, Array, or Iterable
  • Concurrency is limited to navigation.hardwareConcurrency - 1 to keep the main core free.
    • This is a configurable option if you know you already have other workers running
  • Workers are only created when there is need for them (work is available)
  • Workers are terminated when there is no more work, freeing up threads for other processes
    • for Observable, work is considered remaining while the observable is not completed
    • for Array, work remains while there are items in the array
    • for Iterable, work remains while the iterator is not result.done
  • Workers are kept running while work remains, preventing unnecessary downloading of the worker script
  • Custom observable flattening operator can be passed, allowing for custom behaviour such as correlating the output order with input order
    • default operator is mergeAll(), which means the output from the webworker(s) is output as soon as available


In this simple example, we have a function that receives an array of files and returns an observable of the MD5 sum hashes of those files. For simplicity we're passing the primitives back and forth, however in reality you are likely to want to construct your own interface to define the messages being passed to and from the worker.

Main Thread

// src/readme/worker-pool.main.ts
import { Observable } from 'rxjs';
import { fromWorkerPool } from 'observable-webworker';
export function computeHashes(files: File[]): Observable<string> {
  return fromWorkerPool<File, string>(() => new Worker('./worker-pool-hash.worker', { type: 'module' }), files);

Worker Thread

// src/readme/worker-pool-hash.worker.ts
import * as md5 from 'js-md5';
import { DoWorkUnit, ObservableWorker } from 'observable-webworker';
import { Observable } from 'rxjs';
import { map } from 'rxjs/operators';
export class WorkerPoolHashWorker implements DoWorkUnit<File, string> {
  public workUnit(input: File): Observable<string> {
    return this.readFileAsArrayBuffer(input).pipe(map(arrayBuffer => md5(arrayBuffer)));
  private readFileAsArrayBuffer(blob: Blob): Observable<ArrayBuffer> {
    return new Observable(observer => {
      if (!(blob instanceof Blob)) {
        observer.error(new Error('`blob` must be an instance of File or Blob.'));
      const reader = new FileReader();
      reader.onerror = err => observer.error(err);
      reader.onload = () => observer.next(reader.result as ArrayBuffer);
      reader.onloadend = () => observer.complete();
      return () => reader.abort();

Note here that the worker class implements DoWorkUnit<File, string>. This is different to before where we implemented DoWork which had the slightly more complex signature of inputting an observable and outputting one.

If using the fromWorkerPool strategy, you must only implement DoWorkUnit as it relies on the completion of the returned observable to indicate that the unit of work is finished processing.


npm i observable-webworker

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